Dictators & Celebrities

By challenging celebrities who perform for dictators, HRF can better expose their crimes and raise the social and professional cost for pop
stars that choose to fête tyrants. HRF reaches an audience who might
not otherwise be aware of these countries or human rights issues.

Nicki Minaj In Angola

In 2015, HRF denounced American hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj's scheduled performance in Angola’s capital at a holiday party for Unitel, a communications company controlled by the family of dictator José Eduardo dos Santos. HRF wrote to Minaj, informing the artist and her management about the human rights crisis in Angola, which has been ruled by dos Santos since 1979. Minaj performed anyway, but the dictatorship felt the heat of international media scrutiny everywhere from The New York Times to Billboard, and ended up releasing several political prisoners into house arrest.

A selection of articles featuring HRF on the Nicki Minaj controversy is available here:

"Nicki Minaj Concert in Angola Draws Human Rights Complaint"
The New York Times

"Nicki Minaj Targeted by Human Rights Activists for Angola Performance"
The Hollywood Reporter

"Nicki Minaj Human Rights Controversy: Rapper Urged To Cancel Appearance In Angola"
International Business Times

"Nicki Minaj Targeted Over Upcoming Performance for African 'Dictator'"

"Nicki Minaj Goes Ahead with Controversial Angola Gig"

"Nicki Minaj Concert in Angola Sparks Human Rights Concerns"

"A Luanda, Nicki Minaj en concert, Luaty Beirao en prison"
Le Monde

"Activistas piden a Nicki Minaj que no actúe para el presidente de Angola"
El País

"Nicki Minaj Faces Calls to Cancel Angola Concert Amid Human Rights Concerns"
The Guardian

Kanye West in Kazakhstan

In 2013 HRF condemned American entertainer Kanye West for performing at the wedding of Kazakhstani president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grandson for a reported fee of $3 million. HRF’s criticism appeared in hundreds of media outlets, become a trending topic on Twitter, and is estimated to have reached millions of individuals around the world everywhere from Rolling Stone to the Howard Stern Show. Through this campaign, HRF was able to educate a mainstream audience on human rights abuse and the lack of democracy in Kazakhstan.

A selection of articles featuring HRF on the Kanye West controversy is available here:

"Kanye West Performs for a Dictator's Family, and Human Rights Activists Are Livid"
Mother Jones

"Human Rights Group Dings Kanye for Kazakhstan Trip"
Associated Press

"Kanye’s $3M Kazakh Cash-in"
The New York Post

"Human Rights Foundation Chastises Rapper Kanye West for Kazakhstan Wedding Performance"
The Washington Post

"Kanye West Criticized for Kazakhstan Performance"
Rolling Stone

"Kanye's Kazakhstan Concert Not First Controversial Gig Of Its Kind"
MTV News

"Kanye West Under Fire from Human Rights Foundation After Performing for ‘Ruthless’ Dictator’s Family in Kazakhstan"
National Post

"Kanye West Criticized By Human Rights Foundation Over His Kazakhstan Performance"

"Five Places Kanye West Could Have Performed Other Than Kazakhstan"
The Los Angeles Times

"Kanye West Under Fire for Kazakhstan Show"
The Wall Street Journal

"Dancing With The Dictators: Kanye West Joins The Club"

"Kanye West Receives Backlash From Human Rights Foundation For Kazakhstan Gig"
Vibe Magazine

"Kanye West Under Fire for Kazakhstan Performance"

"Dennis Rodman, Jennifer Lopez and Kanye West: BFFs with Dictators"
The Guardian

Jennifer Lopez In Turkmenistan

In 2013 HRF denounced pop star Jennifer Lopez for performing at a birthday concert for the dictator of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2006. The concert was arranged and sponsored by a branch of the Chinese dictatorship through the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation. Lopez reportedly earned $1.5 million for the performance, which was caught on video and staged at a vast $2 billion resort. HRF’s campaign brought the topic of human rights abuses in Turkmenistan to the forefront of popular culture. This campaign was referenced and quoted by major news outlets in more than 30 countries.

A selection of articles featuring HRF on the Jennifer Lopez controversy is available here:

“Jennifer Lopez Under Fire for 'Happy Birthday' Song to Dictator”
ABC News

“Jennifer Lopez Angers Human Rights Activists With Show in Turkmenistan”
Wall Street Journal

"Jennifer Lopez Criticised for Turkmenistan Corporate Gig"

"Jennifer Lopez Paid $1.5 Million To Sing Happy Birthday To Oppressive Dictator"
Fox News Latino

"Jennifer Lopez Sings For Brutal Dictator, Says She Wouldn’t Have Performed If She Knew He Was A Brutal Dictator"

"Embarrassment of Riches"

"Jennifer Lopez Apologizes For Serenade of Turkmenistan President"
LA Times

"After Serenading a Dictator, Jennifer Lopez Won't Say If She'll Keep the Fee"
Mother Jones

“Jennifer Lopez Sorry for Turkmenistan Performance”
E! Online

“J-Lo Singing Happy Birthday to a Brutal Dictator Was a Last Minute Idea”
The Atlantic Wire

“Jennifer Lopez Apologizes For Serenading Turkmenistan President”
The Washington Times

"Jennifer Lopez Regrets Birthday Song for Turkmenistan Leader"

"Jennifer Lopez Accused of Accepting $10 Million From 'Dictators and Crooks'"
The Hollywood Reporter

"Jennifer Lopez Earned Millions 'Serenading Crooks and Dictators,' Human Rights Group Alleges"
US News and World Report

"Happy Birthday, Mister...Dictator? Jennifer Lopez's $10M Payday 'For Serenading at Least Four Ruthless Despots and Crooks'"
Daily Mail

"How Jennifer Lopez Was Paid $10m to Perform For Some of 'the World's Worst Thugs and Their Cronies'"
The Independent

"Jennifer Lopez Made Over $10 Million ‘Serenading Crooks’ According To Report"
Fox News Latino

"Human Rights Foundation: Jennifer Lopez Made Millions 'Serenading Crooks And Dictators'"
The Huffington Post

"Jennifer Lopez Accepted $10M to Perform For 'Thugs and Cronies,' Human Rights Group Claims"
New York Post

"Jennifer Lopez ‘Cozies Up to Dictators’—To the Tune of $10M in Two Years"
The Washington Times

"Jennifer Lopez Has Earned $10 Million Performing For Dictators, Says New Report"
NBC Latino

"Report: Jennifer Lopez Made Over $10 Million Performing for Dictators"

Hilary Swank In Chechnya

In 2011 HRF condemned actress Hilary Swank’s paid appearance at the birthday party of Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya infamous for torture, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights abuses. Kadyrov celebrated his 35th birthday in Grozny, to which he invited several high profile celebrities, including actors Kevin Costner, Eva Mendes, violinist Vanessa-Mae, and Colombian singer Shakira.

Before the event, HRF sent a letter to the invited celebrities describing the president’s abysmal human rights record and asking them to reconsider their participation in light of his abuses of power. Shakira chose not to perform at the party. HRF confirmed that Costner and Mendes declined the invitation, and Vanessa-Mae did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails. However, Swank attended and was captured on video publicly wishing the president a happy birthday. She reportedly earned $500,000 for her participation. The event turned into a scandal for her, wherein she eventually apologized on the Jay Leno Show and promised to donate the money to a Chechen charity.

A selection of commentary is available here:

"Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude Van Damme Slammed for Attending Birthday of Chechen Leader"
The Hollywood Reporter

"Van Damme, Swank Blasted for Attending Chechen Leader's Bash"

"Hilary Swank Under Fire for Attending Ramzan Kadyrov's Party in Chechnya"
The Guardian

"Hilary Swank 'Deeply Regrets' Attending Chechen Gala”
LA Times

“Hilary Swank Donating Fees From Chechen Leader's Birthday Party to Charity”
The Hollywood Reporter

"Swank to Give her Chechen Fee to Charity; The Million Dollar Baby Actress Now Says She Regrets Attending a Warlord's Birthday Party"
The Independent

"Hilary Swank Sacks Manager and Staff Following Ramzan Kadyrov PR Disaster"
The Guardian

"Hilary Swank's Party Scandal Makes Publicists Fire Her"
International Business Times

"Chechen Separatist Leader Urges Actress To Prove Charitable Donation"
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Erykah Badu In Swaziland

In 2014 HRF denounced American singer-songwriter Erykah Badu for performing at the birthday celebration of Swaziland’s King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in Africa. Badu partied with the king and presented him with lavish gifts while several political prisoners languished in prison not far from the royal palace. HRF’s criticism of Badu’s actions led to an international media blitz that brought global attention to the often-overlooked human rights abuses in Swaziland. The campaign was quoted and referenced by more than 20 international media outlets and led to Badu canceling a scheduled performance in another dictatorship, The Gambia.

Read a selection of commentary on the scandal:

“Erykah Badu under fire for singing to Swazi king”
Mail & Guardian

“Human rights groups demand answers after Erykah Badu performs for Swaziland dictator”
The Washington Times

“Erykah Badu Criticized for Performing at Swaziland King’s Birthday”
The Hollywood Reporter

“Erykah Badu Criticized Over Swaziland Performance”

“Erykah Badu Under Fire for Swazi King Birthday Performance”

“Erykah Badu slammed for performing at King Mswati III's birthday party”
The Guardian

“Erykah Badu Defends Swaziland Performance Amid Abuse Allegations”
Rolling Stone

“Erykah Badu defends singing for Swazi king”
Yahoo! News Singapore

“Erykah Badu on performing for a dictator: 'that's how KINGDOMS twerk'”
Los Angeles Times

Mariah Carey In Angola

In 2013 HRF denounced pop star Mariah Carey for performing a concert at a gala attended by the dictator of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos. The concert was organized by the Angolan Red Cross and sponsored by Unitel, a mobile phone company owned by dos Santos’ billionaire daughter Isabel. Carey reportedly received $1 million to perform at the event, which raised a mere $65,000 for the Red Cross. HRF’s condemnation of Carey’s performance brought the crimes of the Angolan regime to the attention of the international media, which has often glossed over human rights abuses by dos Santos in the past. HRF’s campaign was quoted and referenced by more than 30 major news outlets around the world everywhere from Good Morning America to Billboard, reaching millions of people.

A selection of articles featuring HRF on the Mariah Carey controversy is available here:

"Mariah Carey Accused of Accepting 'Dictator Cash' for Angola Concert"
The Guardian

"Mariah Carey Slammed by Human Rights Group for Collecting ‘Dictator Cash’"
ABC News

"Mariah Carey Was Paid $1million to Perform for Angola Dictator"
The Daily Mail

"Mariah Carey Criticised by Activists for Angola Concert"
Yahoo! News UK & Ireland

"Mariah slammed for performing for Angolan president"
USA Today

"Mariah Carey Performs For Angolan Dictator"

"Mariah Carey Criticised for Angola President Performance"
The Telegraph

"Mariah Carey Criticized for Performing for Angolan Leader"
Toronto Sun

"Mariah Paid $1M ‘to Sing for Angola Dictator’"
New York Post

"Human Rights Group Slams Mariah Carey for Concert in Angola"
The Hollywood Reporter

"Mariah Carey Slammed by Human Rights Group Over Concert in Angola, Singer Reportedly Paid $1 Million"
E! Online

"All I Want for Christmas, Mariah, Is You to Stop Performing for Dictators, Says Human Rights Group"
Washington Post

"Mariah Carey Manager: We’re Not Sorry for Angola Show"
New York Post